Chargers vs. Broncos: Takeaways from San Diego's 27-20 Win over Denver
With the win, the Chargers remain in the hunt for a wild-card berth in the AFC, alongside the rival Kansas City Chiefs. Slowing down the league's top offense was no cakewalk for the Chargers, but the defense found a way to get it done.
Here are takeaways from an exciting Thursday night game.
Chargers Dominate Time of Possession, Keep Manning on the Sidelines
There is no better blueprint for beating Peyton Manning than keeping him on the sidelines.
The Chargers couldn't have understood this philosophy any better on Thursday night, swallowing up close to 40 minutes of possession and leaving Manning with a little more than 21 minutes to work with on offense.
Denver ran 53 plays, compared to San Diego's 66, and the Broncos offense managed to score on just four of its nine drives.
Case in point: keep the league's top offense off the field, and you'll have a better chance at winning in the end.
Run It Right Down Their Throats
When you've got Philip Rivers on your team, smash-mouth football doesn't seem to come up a lot on offense. But that didn't stop San Diego from letting the running game loose on Thursday night.
Last week against New York, Ryan Mathews finished with 29 carries for 103 yards in what was looked at as a solid night for the Chargers running back. Mike McCoy must have realized that the running game was working, because he went right ahead and fed Mathews for another 29 carries against the Broncos.
Mathews battled the high altitude and a minor leg injury to rip off a season-high 128 rushing yards, surpassing the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the second time in his career while also collecting his fifth game this season with more than 100 yards rushing—tied for most in the NFL.
San Diego had a respective 44 rushing attempts compared to Denver's 11.
The Battle of Third-Down Supremacy
Heading into Thursday's matchup, the Broncos and Chargers ranked No. 1 and 2 in the league in third-down efficiency, respectively, which meant that the winner on third-down on Thursday night would eventually go on to win the game. That was exactly how it played out for the Chargers, who converted 6-of-12 tries on third-down.
Coincidentally enough, the two third downs Denver converted were on the very first and last drives of the game. Everything in between resulted in four punts and one turnover.
Not only did the offense come up big with third-down conversions, but give credit to the defense for holding off Manning. With the type of uptempo offense No. 18 likes to run, John Pagano had his guys ready to react quickly.
Swapping Field Goals for Touchdowns
You've heard it a number of times this season: you can't settle for field goals against the Broncos.
In Week 10, the Chargers did just that and ended up losing to the Broncos 28-20. In the Week 15 rematch, San Diego added to their field goal output with three touchdowns. Denver, meanwhile, got the short end of the stick, finishing with a similar result the Chargers had in Week 10.
What better way to beat an opponent than with their own gameplan?
Allen Scores a Pair, Adds Highlight of the Night
With two touchdown grabs against the Broncos, Keenan Allen now has back-to-back games with a pair of scores. On top of that, Allen made a strong case for Offensive Rookie of the Year honors being directed his way.
The Chargers couldn't have asked for any more from their third-round pick, as he continues to come up big week after week, making the plays his team needs. On the national stage, Allen couldn't help but sprinkle in some flair with a showstopping hurdle over Kayvon Webster.
Defense Steps Up, Forces Costly Mistake from Manning
San Diego's defense made plenty of noteworthy stops on Thursday night, but none was more deserving of praise than the forced turnover in the fourth quarter.
First of all, picking off Manning is a big deal, considering he's thrown just 10 interceptions on the season, so somebody may want to hold onto that game ball for safekeeping. The defense, as a whole, did a great job of picking up individual assignments on the play, but tip your hat to Corey Liuget for getting pressure on Manning and Thomas Keiser for coming up with the interception.
Keiser's pick pretty much sealed the victory for the Chargers, knowing full well that Manning could have put together a comeback with so much time left on the clock.
Run Game Not an Option for Denver
Denver's run game was neither efficient nor visible on Thursday night. The Broncos gave Knowshon Moreno eight carries and Montee Ball three for a grand total of 18 yards.
As the Chargers proceeded to score 21 unanswered points during the second and third quarter, Denver was forced to stray away from the run game, which surprisingly worked in San Diego's favor. Manning still finished with 289 yards passing, but the Chargers defense did enough to force three-and-outs on multiple occasions.
Rivers Playing at an Elite Status
What more does Philip Rivers have to do to gain re-entry into the elite ranks for NFL quarterbacks? In addition to his astounding numbers this season, Rivers has gotten even better down the stretch for San Diego.
In his last six games, Rivers has 11 touchdown passes to just two interceptions, and his completion percentage has yet to fall below 60 percent. With playoff hopes in the balance, Rivers has stepped up and delivered. Gone are the days of fumbled snaps and careless interceptions.